In a study, some nurses on duty were telephoned. The caller claimed to be a doctor and asked the nurses to administer 20 g of a drug, Astrogen, to a certain patient.
There were several good reasons for the nurses not to comply with this order:
– It was against hospital policy for nurses to take orders over the phone
– The maximum dosage of Astrogen, as mentioned in the bottle, was 10 g per day
– The nurses had never met or spoken to the doctor before
Yet, 95% of the nurses in the experiment headed for the medicine cabinet, picked up a bottle of Astrogen and were on their way to the patient before a hidden observer intervened.
Those nurses were professionals – they weren’t incompetent. Yet, once they received an order from a doctor, the nurses switched off their brains and went to work.
Our brains are parsimonious. Authority causes them to suspend independent judgement and blindly comply with orders. This quality serves us in most situations – in most cases, an expert orders ought to be heeded. But as this experiment demonstrates, unquestioned obedience can sometimes lead to grave mistakes.
Wearing a uniform or bearing a title doesn’t make people immune to mistakes. Do not suspend your judgement.